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By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor - Archive - Email
Halak or Elliott? Blues faced with tough decision
The numbers for both goaltenders have been phenomenal this season.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In their classic Motown duet, "It Takes Two," Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston sang about how every aspect of life can be enriched when two people join together for a single purpose.

The message in Gaye and Weston's song is a simple one, but unfortunately for the St. Louis Blues, the idea that "it takes two, baby, to make a dream come true" does not apply to their goaltending situation.

The problem that the Blues have is one that many NHL clubs would gladly invite. While many franchises have trouble finding one goaltender worthy of being their No. 1, St. Louis has both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

There is no question that having two of the league's top goaltenders has helped St. Louis to its current status as the top seed in the entire NHL, but while using a fairly even split in net is a fine option to have during the regular season, a platoon is simply out of the question come playoff-time.

Halak always figured to have the inside track on the starting job once the playoffs start. After all, St. Louis has committed more resources to the 26- year-old Czech native. He was acquired in a high-profile trade with Montreal in the summer of 2010 and just days later was signed to a four-year, $15 million contract.

Meanwhile, very little was expected of Elliott when he signed a one-year, $600,000 deal to join St. Louis last summer. The Blues have since sweetened the pot for Elliott, inking him to a two-year extension that is worth $1.8 million a season.

The numbers for both goaltenders have been phenomenal this season, as the duo has combined for a franchise-record 14 shutouts, surpassing the 13 white- washings posted by Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante in 1968-69.

However, even though Halak comes with the superior pedigree, Elliott has outplayed the former netminder by the smallest of margins. Elliott also is coming off consecutive shutouts, giving him eight on the season to tie Hall's club mark for most blankings in a season by one goalie.

Elliott, a 26-year-old Ontario native, also leads the NHL with a 1.52 goals against average and a .941 save percentage, but his counterpart isn't too far behind. Halak is second in the league with a 1.90 GAA, fifth with a .927 save percentage and only Elliott, Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick and New York Rangers backstop Henrik Lundqvist. who each have eight shutouts, are ahead of the Czech goalie's six shutouts.

In a recent interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said he still hasn't made up his mind about who will start the opening game of the playoffs, and it's easy to believe he's telling the truth.

Many times, one half of a successful goaltending tandem cools off near the end of the season, making a coach's decision for the playoffs an easy one. That hasn't happened for Hitchcock's Blues so far, but the veteran coach isn't about to complain about his predicament.

"I think the longer I hold off ... I expected a month ago that this thing would kind of air itself out and we'd figure out something. But it has not. I wouldn't say it's more complicated, it's a good complication. But they're making it hard on me because both guys are playing so good."

One factor that will make it difficult for Hitch to choose the wrong goaltender is that since he took over as head coach for the fired Davis Payne back in November, his team has been playing excellent team defense, making both Elliott and Halak's jobs easier.

Hitchcock also has the advantage of not being forced into being loyal to one goaltender over the other. Neither netminder is firmly entrenched as the starter, and if one gets tabbed to start the playoffs and stumbles, nobody could blame Hitch if he makes a quick change.

Perhaps, the ultimate factor in picking the postseason starter will be Halak's marked edge in terms of playoff experience, and success. Halak has played in 21 playoff games, 18 of which came while leading the eighth-seeded Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals in the spring of 2010. After all, Halak's amazing postseason run of two years ago was what made St. Louis want to acquire the goaltender in the first place.

Elliott, on the other hand, has played in just four postseason contests. All of his playoff experience came with Ottawa in 2010, when Elliott went 1-2 with a lofty 4.14 GAA in the Senators' first-round exit against Pittsburgh -- the same team Halak helped frustrate in the following round that year.

The Blues very likely could be the No. 1 seed when the playoffs get underway in two weeks, but an old pro like Hitchcock knows that in the postseason a hot goaltender means more than the number in front of a team's name.

Right now it may seem like Hitch can't go wrong in picking either Halak or Elliott, but when the pressure of the playoffs kick in, that may not be the case. One bad performance by a goaltender can be the difference between losing in the first round or making a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Having an embarrassment of riches in net is a good choice to have, that is, unless you make the wrong one.


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